A new report has revealed a far more vindictive side to the United States’ persecution of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. According to an investigative report by Yahoo News published on Sunday, September 26, US’ notorious intelligence service, the Central Investigative Agency (CIA), had floated plans of extreme measures against Assange, which included the possibility of kidnapping or even assassinating him.
The report, based on conversations with 30 former intelligence and national security officers, details a contentious debate at the highest levels of the agency under Donald Trump-era CIA director, Mike Pompeo. The debate took place shortly after Wikileaks began publishing the Vault 7 documents which revealed the CIA’s extensive capabilities of hacking and compromising devices and softwares, in March 2017.
According to the report, the agency concluded that the publication of Vault 7 files was the “largest data loss in CIA history.” According to a former national security official of the Trump administration, the CIA leadership was “embarrassed” about the leak and wanted retribution. The Trump administration barely had months left in power.
At the time of the Vault 7 publication, Assange had been in the Ecuadorian embassy for over five years. He had taken refuge at the embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden, fearing that it would lead to his extradition to the US.
The report showed that Pompeo led the discussions for plans of extreme measures against Assange. According to the national security official, Pompeo and the then deputy CIA director, Gina Haspel, “wanted vengeance on Assange.” Another former intelligence officer told Yahoo News that there were plans aired by Pompeo and other officials to conduct rendition from inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
Another idea, floated by the president Trump himself, was that of an assassination attempt. In what was viewed as “unhinged and ridiculous”, Trump had inquired whether the agency could assassinate Assange and asked for “options,” according to a former senior CIA officer.
While Trump denied that such actions were even considered by him, another intelligence officer said that there were “sketches” prepared with plans to assassinate not only Assange, but also other Europe-based Wikileaks journalists with access to Vault 7 documents.
As per the report, it is not entirely clear if the kidnapping and assassination plans ever reached the White House, but Trump’s National Security Council (NSC) attorneys worked against Pompeo’s plans to execute any of these plans. They, in turn, pushed for an indictment against Assange.
According to former officials, by May 2017, deputy counsel to the president and top legal advisor to the NSC, John Eisenberg, pushed the US Department of Justice (DOJ) to speed up an indictment process against Assange.
Attorneys and several officials within the NSC and the intelligence community also opposed the “extreme measures” against Assange over concerns about possible diplomatic disputes that could arise not only with the United Kingdom, a major ally of the US, and Ecuador, but also with Assange’s home country and another US ally, Australia.
At around the same time, the US had also struck a backdoor deal with Spanish security company UC Global, which was contracted for the security detailing of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, to spy on Assange. This was without the knowledge of the Ecuadorian authorities. It was later revealed during the course of a trial of UC Global in a Spanish court by an anonymous source from the company that discussions to poison Assange were also held with the company’s director, David Morales.
Eventually, on December 21, 2017, months after the Swedish courts dropped the alleged rape charges against Assange, the DOJ secretly indicted him. Details of this indictment were only revealed in April 2019, when Assange was arrested and dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy by British authorities, paving the way for an extradition request against him.
These revelations, coupled with the interview with Icelandic hacker Siggy Thordarson, show that under different administrations, the US intelligence system was vindictively hounding Assange and finding ways to either prosecute or silence him.
Speaking to Yahoo News, Barry Pollack, Assange’s lawyer in the US, said that “As an American citizen, I find it absolutely outrageous that our government would be contemplating kidnapping or assassinating somebody without any judicial process simply because he had published truthful information.”
“In its persecution of Assange, the Trump administration used methods more readily associated with a criminal organization than a democracy,” wrote Nils Melzer, UN special rapporteur on torture, in a tweet. “Time for @JoeBiden to end this disgraceful travesty, drop the charges & restore the dignity, integrity & credibility of @POTUS & #USGovt.”
Raising concerns about the threat that continued prosecution has on Assange’s safety, both the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) made similar calls for his release. The International Federation of Journalists called for a full investigation into the reported plans against Assange.
This new report highlights that the prosecution of Julian Assange poses a grave threat to press freedom.
We’ll say it again: The government needs to drop its charges against him. https://t.co/OZufPa8bVy
— ACLU (@ACLU) September 27, 2021
The alleged CIA plot against Julian Assange is alarming, and underscores the very serious risk he remains at in detention. Assange should be immediately released, and the Biden Administration should close the case against him once and for all. #FreeAssange https://t.co/tFeZKyK1Ok
— Rebecca Vincent (@rebecca_vincent) September 28, 2021
#FreeAssange CIA planned to kidnap or assassinate Assange, ex-officials say. If these accusations are true, it would cast a long shadow over all independent journalism. We are calling for a full investigation https://t.co/AgDxatr3FE via @MailOnline
— IFJ (@IFJGlobal) September 27, 2021
Assange is currently being held at the high security Belmarsh prison near London, awaiting appeals hearing on his extradition to the US, scheduled to begin on October 28. The US is appealing against a decision by a magistrates’ court in London to reject the extradition request due to a potential suicide risk. If extradited, Assange will face an indictment before a grand jury under multiple charges of espionage and cybercrimes, amounting to a total of maximum prison sentence of 175 years.